D&D General I've Been a DM for 30 Years and I have Zero Imagination.

Jahydin

Adventurer
This is something I've found about myself recently that I thought was kind of humorous. I've ran multiple successful campaigns through every edition of D&D over the years and never once realized how bad my imagination was until I started to play more narrative focused games like FATE and PbtA.

Looking back though, I didn't really need to imagine anything to be successful:
For Old School D&D I could focus on the simple dungeon maps, random charts, and mathematical rules.
3E/Pathfinder (favorite edition) was all about miniatures, battlemats, and rolling for everything to determine results.
4E was D&D the board game, so even more so I didn't need to visualize anything in my mind's eye.

5E was when the cracks started to show though. I ran Out of the Abyss and nearly keeled over from exhaustion from the amount of prep I had to do. Multiple NPCs all with distinct personalities and motivations, long stretches of travel time with little explanation on how to make it interesting, completely foreign races (Underdark) and how they might interact with the PCs, and gigantic demons that were in complex environments I couldn't just run with miniatures and dry-erase boards. Throughout this entire campaign though, I never once realized why it was so difficult for me; I just thought it was terribly written! :LOL:

Then came Dungeon World. My friend asked me to play and it sounded fun, but quickly realized how difficult it was for me to play. I could see everyone was drawing the scene in their minds and then narrating what they saw; but for me, it's just blank. :oops: My brain just doesn't do that.

It made me realize that I don't even imagine scenes when I read books. I enjoy following the logic of the story, but not once do I "visualize" the characters, scenery, or action. At best, I just get small "flash" if I concentrate really hard.

Anyway, curious if anyone else can relate!
 

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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Careful what you say about board games...you might accidentally summon an Edition War Lich!

I can't relate very easily, sorry. I'm ADHD, so my brain is always processing some kind of imagination scenario of some sort at all times. It's a lot like living with a permanent daydream running constantly in my head. When I'm not hyperfocused on some kind of mental task (like engineering design), my mind will wander to some pretty colorful and interesting places.

But good news: you don't have to play only 5th Edition adventures in 5th Edition D&D. You can play those old 3E/Pathfinder modules in 5th Edition fairly easy. The maps are already drawn, the room descriptions are already written, and the treasures are already stocked. If you stumble upon something that you don't have the 5E stats for, just Google it...chances are, someone out there has already converted it to 5E for you.

I remember seeing several of the old Pathfinder adventure paths fully converted to 5E somewhere, a while back (before Paizo decided to re-release them as completely new products). It wasn't a full conversion; it was more like a collection of notes to reference alongside the originals. But anyway: the resources are out there, and you mentioned that 3E/Pathfinder was your favorite. So I'd like to just encourage you to play what you like!
 
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fnordland

Villager
I can sympathise with this, Indie games require a lot of emotional energy. Not everyone has the ability to improvise on the spot. There are many actors who need a script and hours of rehearsals to produce their craft. Catch them unaware on camera or even a podcast and they are human and not their characters.

When I look at rpg cons and stores, Indie games are a small % of store capacity and games offered. I am one of the people who buy scenarios and books rather than create them myself.
 

This is something I've found about myself recently that I thought was kind of humorous. I've ran multiple successful campaigns through every edition of D&D over the years and never once realized how bad my imagination was until I started to play more narrative focused games like FATE and PbtA.

Looking back though, I didn't really need to imagine anything to be successful:
For Old School D&D I could focus on the simple dungeon maps, random charts, and mathematical rules.
3E/Pathfinder (favorite edition) was all about miniatures, battlemats, and rolling for everything to determine results.
4E was D&D the board game, so even more so I didn't need to visualize anything in my mind's eye.

5E was when the cracks started to show though. I ran Out of the Abyss and nearly keeled over from exhaustion from the amount of prep I had to do. Multiple NPCs all with distinct personalities and motivations, long stretches of travel time with little explanation on how to make it interesting, completely foreign races (Underdark) and how they might interact with the PCs, and gigantic demons that were in complex environments I couldn't just run with miniatures and dry-erase boards. Throughout this entire campaign though, I never once realized why it was so difficult for me; I just thought it was terribly written! :LOL:

Then came Dungeon World. My friend asked me to play and it sounded fun, but quickly realized how difficult it was for me to play. I could see everyone was drawing the scene in their minds and then narrating what they saw; but for me, it's just blank. :oops: My brain just doesn't do that.

It made me realize that I don't even imagine scenes when I read books. I enjoy following the logic of the story, but not once do I "visualize" the characters, scenery, or action. At best, I just get small "flash" if I concentrate really hard.

Anyway, curious if anyone else can relate!
I find it fascinating how you find the roleplay aspect of 5e exhausting when your favourite edition (3.x) was the one that broke me from the mechanical prep work and system mastery requirement.
I can empathise with your current situation, I too enjoy pre-planning as a DM, so these narrative-focused games such as Apocalypse World, Blades in the Dark, Dungeon World etc can be quite daunting for the traditional player/DM.
 

jgsugden

Legend
... It made me realize that I don't even imagine scenes when I read books. I enjoy following the logic of the story, but not once do I "visualize" the characters, scenery, or action. At best, I just get small "flash" if I concentrate really hard.

Anyway, curious if anyone else can relate!
Have you heard of Aphantasia? What you describe isn't terribly specific, but there are similarities to what I know about Aphantasia.

We all process information differently. If you're finding it difficult to run a game without miniatures and props - then don't. Even if you do not use all the swceneary or have the right miniature, just use whatever is on hand at the moment. Heck, you might even just Google a few features of the scene and see if there is some artwork out there to showcase what you're describing or seeing described.

Back in the 80s - when I had about 40 metal figures total as my miniature collection - I used a variety of toys and small objects to physically showcase a scene to players. When I think back on some of those most memorable events, I see the Red Dragon figure we used at the table - a stuffed animal ... not a mental picture of a dragon. We were not using it for a wargame style miniatures combat - just as a prop to set the stage.
 


aco175

Legend
You must be doing something right to last 30 years and have people come back to play with you.

I can't remember ho many times I describe something like a trap being a giant round boulder that starts to roll down hidden rails behind you... and the players say, "Is it just like Indiana Jones." Even if I never seen the movie or read the book I find that there can be only so many possibilities in the world and even sub-consciously creating things you may have seen and forgot.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
I wouldn't worry about it. You can accomplish a lot just by putting the right words in the right order even if those words in that order do not generate any imagery for you. I agree with the others who have said you're probably doing something pretty right to have people returning to your games.

Imagination is overrated anyway.
 

moriantumr

Explorer
I have aphantasia and am a dm. I prefer story driven games over tangible map or figure driven games because it lets me focus on how the story makes me and others feel instead of hyper fixating on the now tangible thing I cannot see in my mind. Throwing out a map, or using a zone based ruleset, has let me be present with the players. It is really hard to create a map off the cuff when you can’t envision it to begin with.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Two comments:

1: When you say imagination, do you mean "the capacity to form images in your mind?" Because it's a condition some people have (aphantasia) where this task is arduous or even impossible. But I would then state that this is only a subset of imagination...

2: Out of the Abyss IS hard to run. A lot of the 5e official campaigns are badly written/organized.
 


Voadam

Legend
Looking back though, I didn't really need to imagine anything to be successful:
For Old School D&D I could focus on the simple dungeon maps, random charts, and mathematical rules.
3E/Pathfinder (favorite edition) was all about miniatures, battlemats, and rolling for everything to determine results.
4E was D&D the board game, so even more so I didn't need to visualize anything in my mind's eye.

5E was when the cracks started to show though. I ran Out of the Abyss and nearly keeled over from exhaustion from the amount of prep I had to do. Multiple NPCs all with distinct personalities and motivations, long stretches of travel time with little explanation on how to make it interesting, completely foreign races (Underdark) and how they might interact with the PCs, and gigantic demons that were in complex environments I couldn't just run with miniatures and dry-erase boards. Throughout this entire campaign though, I never once realized why it was so difficult for me; I just thought it was terribly written! :LOL:
That sounds like the issue is the adventure style in Out of the Abyss rather than edition.

I found that White Plume Mountain was fairly the same for me running it in 1e AD&D in the 80s and in 5e using the conversion in Tales from the Yawning Portal.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
This is something I've found about myself recently that I thought was kind of humorous. I've ran multiple successful campaigns through every edition of D&D over the years and never once realized how bad my imagination was until I started to play more narrative focused games like FATE and PbtA.

Looking back though, I didn't really need to imagine anything to be successful:
For Old School D&D I could focus on the simple dungeon maps, random charts, and mathematical rules.
3E/Pathfinder (favorite edition) was all about miniatures, battlemats, and rolling for everything to determine results.
4E was D&D the board game, so even more so I didn't need to visualize anything in my mind's eye.

5E was when the cracks started to show though. I ran Out of the Abyss and nearly keeled over from exhaustion from the amount of prep I had to do. Multiple NPCs all with distinct personalities and motivations, long stretches of travel time with little explanation on how to make it interesting, completely foreign races (Underdark) and how they might interact with the PCs, and gigantic demons that were in complex environments I couldn't just run with miniatures and dry-erase boards. Throughout this entire campaign though, I never once realized why it was so difficult for me; I just thought it was terribly written! :LOL:

Then came Dungeon World. My friend asked me to play and it sounded fun, but quickly realized how difficult it was for me to play. I could see everyone was drawing the scene in their minds and then narrating what they saw; but for me, it's just blank. :oops: My brain just doesn't do that.

It made me realize that I don't even imagine scenes when I read books. I enjoy following the logic of the story, but not once do I "visualize" the characters, scenery, or action. At best, I just get small "flash" if I concentrate really hard.

Anyway, curious if anyone else can relate!

I sympathize. I have no trouble with imagining things if I start with a few cues, but if I’m starting with a blank page I struggle to get started, especially if there are players sitting around the table waiting.

I’ve tried to GM DungeonWorld and it doesn’t work for me. Way too much improv. The player rolls a 9 and suddenly I have to come up with a reason why his attempted move has left him in a tight spot and…I freeze.
 

Jahydin

Adventurer
Have you heard of Aphantasia? What you describe isn't terribly specific, but there are similarities to what I know about Aphantasia.
I've heard about it just recently actually! From what I read it does sound a lot like how I process information.

But then I read a bunch of articles saying it might not be a real thing, so made me hesitant to use the word myself...
 

Jahydin

Adventurer
I have aphantasia and am a dm. I prefer story driven games over tangible map or figure driven games because it lets me focus on how the story makes me and others feel instead of hyper fixating on the now tangible thing I cannot see in my mind. Throwing out a map, or using a zone based ruleset, has let me be present with the players. It is really hard to create a map off the cuff when you can’t envision it to begin with.
That's an interesting thought. Maybe one of these days I'll try out a more abstracted ruleset without my props.

Index Card RPG comes to mind...
 

Jahydin

Adventurer
Two comments:

1: When you say imagination, do you mean "the capacity to form images in your mind?" Because it's a condition some people have (aphantasia) where this task is arduous or even impossible.
Yup!

But I would then state that this is only a subset of imagination...
What do you mean? That sounds interesting.

2: Out of the Abyss IS hard to run. A lot of the 5e official campaigns are badly written/organized.
Oh, that's a relief others feel the same way.

Had a great time, but the prep to make that adventure work was insane.
 

This is something I've found about myself recently that I thought was kind of humorous. I've ran multiple successful campaigns through every edition of D&D over the years and never once realized how bad my imagination was until I started to play more narrative focused games like FATE and PbtA.

Looking back though, I didn't really need to imagine anything to be successful:
For Old School D&D I could focus on the simple dungeon maps, random charts, and mathematical rules.
3E/Pathfinder (favorite edition) was all about miniatures, battlemats, and rolling for everything to determine results.
4E was D&D the board game, so even more so I didn't need to visualize anything in my mind's eye.

5E was when the cracks started to show though. I ran Out of the Abyss and nearly keeled over from exhaustion from the amount of prep I had to do. Multiple NPCs all with distinct personalities and motivations, long stretches of travel time with little explanation on how to make it interesting, completely foreign races (Underdark) and how they might interact with the PCs, and gigantic demons that were in complex environments I couldn't just run with miniatures and dry-erase boards. Throughout this entire campaign though, I never once realized why it was so difficult for me; I just thought it was terribly written! :LOL:

Then came Dungeon World. My friend asked me to play and it sounded fun, but quickly realized how difficult it was for me to play. I could see everyone was drawing the scene in their minds and then narrating what they saw; but for me, it's just blank. :oops: My brain just doesn't do that.

It made me realize that I don't even imagine scenes when I read books. I enjoy following the logic of the story, but not once do I "visualize" the characters, scenery, or action. At best, I just get small "flash" if I concentrate really hard.

Anyway, curious if anyone else can relate!
Don't sell yourself too short. I mean, there are actually a pretty significant fraction of people who DO NOT visualize! Its not really something you can consider a real limitation either, its just a particular sort of mental process. While the study of such things is sketchy at best there's no suggestion that such people are 'worse at imagining' in the sense of being able to, for example, extrapolate the likely outcomes of a situation, or invent a way to solve a problem.

Maybe you also don't like making up a lot of 'stuff'. Frankly, while I have a reasonable ability to visualize, I don't especially enjoy doing that either, beyond a fairly basic level. The good part of games like PbtAs IMHO is that you really don't need to make up much, and what you DO make up, its usually pretty 'shallow' (IE related to whatever the immediate situation is in a fairly direct way).
 

Jahydin

Adventurer
I sympathize. I have no trouble with imagining things if I start with a few cues, but if I’m starting with a blank page I struggle to get started, especially if there are players sitting around the table waiting.

I’ve tried to GM DungeonWorld and it doesn’t work for me. Way too much improv. The player rolls a 9 and suddenly I have to come up with a reason why his attempted move has left him in a tight spot and…I freeze.
Exactly!

My DM is so good at it though! Constantly improving everyone's crazy ideas and running with them seamlessly. When played by a competent "team", PbtA games are truly a wonder to behold. Like a well oiled machine that just keeps chugging along.

Until it comes to a screeching halt thanks to me, haha.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Exactly!

My DM is so good at it though! Constantly improving everyone's crazy ideas and running with them seamlessly. When played by a competent "team", PbtA games are truly a wonder to behold. Like a well oiled machine that just keeps chugging along.

Until it comes to a screeching halt thanks to me, haha.

Do you think it’s something you can get better at with time?

It’s definitely a challenge. It’s a shift in focus for the GM. Instead of so much being front loaded with prep, it’s more about crafting things in the moment.

I think it’s a skill that improves with time and practice. Until then, you can usually get by with a few basics.

First is to lean on tropes. Just go with the obvious. You’re not writing War and Peace, you’re playing a game. Understandable and expected are often perfectly fine.

Second is to lean on the group. If you’re stuck in a moment like “what could be a consequence here” just ask the players. They’ll have ideas. Sometimes you don’t even need to ask… just listen and they’ll say something and you can use it.

Third is to have some go to examples ready to use. Instead of prepping a ton of monster stats, jot down some complications that make sense for play.

The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
 

Jahydin

Adventurer
Don't sell yourself too short. I mean, there are actually a pretty significant fraction of people who DO NOT visualize!
Oh, thanks! But I honestly don't. I mean, I didn't even realize I had an issue until recently. My players and I have always had a great time and I still love to DM (running PF2e atm). It's more of just a fun quirk I noticed. Thank goodness for flavor text!

One issue I do have is driving on busy streets though. My situational awareness SUCKS, haha. Best I can do in my mind is turn everything into simple vectors and check my mirrors constantly.

Maybe you also don't like making up a lot of 'stuff'.
This is true, and probably a separate issue from the imagination problem. Creating has never been a problem for me, it's actually pretty enjoyable, but not on the spot. Thanks for pointing that out.

The good part of games like PbtAs IMHO is that you really don't need to make up much, and what you DO make up, its usually pretty 'shallow' (IE related to whatever the immediate situation is in a fairly direct way).
I've only played with one group, but not my experience at all. Everyone is so hyperdetailed. Talking in character, describing how their actions look, making up scenery, NPCs, and cultures on the spot (since it encourages collaborative storytelling).
 

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